China in the aftermath of the 20th National Congress of the CCP

China in the aftermath of the 20th National Congress of the CCP: The domestic and international implications


28 | 11 | 2022


Xi's agenda for the upcoming decade and the reactions from the leaders of the other world powers

En la imagen

Opening session of the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, in October 2022 [Chinese News Service]

In the wake of the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xi Jinping has emerged as the most powerful man in China since Mao Zedong after securing a third term as the CCP's general secretary and conducting an overall restructuring of the party by appointing known “Xi loyalists” to top positions within the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC).

In his opening address on 16th October, Xi stressed the importance of the upcoming five years for China's ambitions both domestically and internationally as he called the need for: increased technological self-reliance, harsher COVID-19 policies, tighter domestic economic policies and faster military expansion to repel “separatist movements” within Taiwan and achieve a full Chinese reunification.

Xi's agenda for the upcoming decade revolves around his dream of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Notably enough, his dream not only encompasses China's regional sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific but also advocates for increased Chinese influence in the international playing field as a leader of global governance and economic development.

Xi Jinping's third consecutive election as general secretary of the party and the replacement of the majority of members of the PSC implies a transformation of Chinese foreign and domestic policy. Under such circumstances, the objective of this analysis is to evaluate the implications of Xi Jinping's restructuring of the foundation of the CCP for both short term and long-term policy as well as evaluate the international response from major powers towards such.

Domestic implications for China

The removal of former Chinese president, Hu Jintao, and the exclusion of multiple high-ranking contenders from the PSC (former premier Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, and Han Zheng) suggest a profound shift towards “Xi's new era” which heavily mirrors Maoist China.

As the re-elected general secretary, Xi used the 20th National Congress as a way to cleanse the CCP of any members who oppose his personal view on how China should evolve politically, socially, economically and militarily. The results send a clear message to the Chinese people: Xi Jinping faces absolutely no opposition within the government to carry out his long-term agenda for China. Xi's new era for China includes a series of domestic reforms in terms of politics, economics and culture which will reshape Chinese civil society as a way to cement the longevity of the CPC long after his reign.

Firstly, throughout his opening address, he continuously stresses the need for cultural consolidation within Chinese borders. Xi's vision for the future of China incorporates the unity of the Chinese people regardless of ethnic or religious differences to create a “collective working force with one heart and one mind to realize the Chinese dream.” But at the same time, the Xi-era will witness the integration of “Chinese traditional culture” into all aspects of civil society to “carry on China's cultural heritage.” In this sense, Chinese society (just like the CCP) will undergo its very own “cleansing” in which Xi's new government will strive to create a homogenous civil society made up of ethnic Han Chinese citizens who are loyal to the party and its Marxist ideals.

But his ambitions to create a homogenous society do not only include the current political borders of China. Xi's dream of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” implies that under his leadership China will see the reintegration (politically, culturally and economically) of historically disputed and/or autonomous territories: Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the Depsang Plains. Given that Xi has gone to great lengths to reshape the internal structure of the CCP and PSC, it becomes clear that he plans to achieve his objectives within the near future (most likely within the next decade).

However, Xi is also aware that he needs a very well developed, technologically advanced and highly trained military in order to fulfill his ambitions. The Chinese military will undergo some deep reform in the areas of training, logistics, personnel and equipment in an attempt to create a military culture within China to promote Xi's interests. Given China's internal instability due to ethnic, political, social and religious differences, military development is crucial for the fulfillment of Xi's ambitions. The unconditional support of a well-developed military will safeguard China's “territorial integrity, unity and sovereignty.”

International implications

The newly established PSC and the difference in language used during Xi Jinping's opening address at the conference imply a significant shift towards the assertiveness of Chinese foreign policy for the upcoming decades.

Only subordinate to the general secretary of the party, the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) is the maximum authority of political power within China. The fact that the committee is now exclusively composed of known Xi-loyalists indicates that Xi Jinping is aware that China's development is a threat to the established powers of the West and is thus going into a period of greater struggle. Due to this, he needs a cemented support system within the party to carry out an effective pursuit of his key interests. The need for this support systems also comes at a time in which China's interests directly contradict those of other countries (particularly the US, the EU and ASEAN) which is why counting with the full support of the highest authority within government is an indispensable element needed so Xi may use every weapon at his disposal (economic, political, military or diplomatic) to execute his agenda.

At the same time, the particular language used throughout the address reveals Xi's view that China has entered a period of development with “strategic opportunities, risks and challenges” which is why they must be prepared to withstand “high winds, choppy waters, and even dangerous storms.” The use of such language conveys the message that China is willing to take any measures necessary to achieve its main goals at a time when it's strategically beneficial to it while also preparing itself to resist any sort of foreign interference. Through this, it becomes clear that Chinese foreign policy will embrace turbulent bilateral and multilateral relations as a way to achieve their main interests for the near future.

But a change in the trajectory of foreign policy is not the only significant change of outlook as to which Xi alluded to throughout his address. He also emphasized his goal to internationally project the advantages of the Chinese political and economic system to reshape global governance in a way that benefits Chinese interests. Throughout the entire address, Xi alluded to the fact that China is still a developing country which fundamentally sets it apart from the already established powers of the West as a more appealing candidate to lead the developing world into a period of modernization. This implies that Xi's ambitions for the future include installing China as an international superpower with global influence as a replacement of the West.

And in a final attempt to set China apart from Western powers, Xi emphasized China's “defensive national defense policy” under which he states that China will never impose its ideals upon other countries or seek expansionism. But rather, seek to serve as a pioneer of global change through modernization, innovation and cooperation.

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Presidents Xi and Biden meet during the G20 Summit in Indonesia, in November 2022 [Chinese Gov.]

Response from major powers

In the aftermath of the conference, world leaders remain skeptical of China's true intentions and thus, have proceeded with caution when addressing their new bilateral relations with the solidified leader of the world's largest military and second largest economy.

The United States

Just days before the beginning of the 20th National Congress, the White House released the 2022 National Security Strategy in which Washington referred to China as their “most consequential geopolitical challenge” of the time; a significant shift from previous reports where China is simply referred to as a “competitor” or a “challenger.” But President Biden emphasized the importance of “competing responsibly” with China to avoid unintended military escalations and maintain peace and stability throughout the Indo-Pacific.

Furthermore, the White house firmly maintained its opposition to Taiwanese independence and stressed its commitment to the “One-China Policy.” However, the US remained fully committed to upholding Taiwanese territorial integrity by preventing any sort of coercion against Taiwan.

The US' intentions to maintain stability in the Taiwan Strait directly contradict Xi's ambitions of Chinese reunification under his “One Country, Two Systems” policy. While he states that peaceful reunification with Taiwan is one of Beijing's core interests, he does not disregard the use of force or other “necessary measures” to deter foreign intervention and suppress separatist activities.

A direct and official congratulatory message from the White House towards Xi Jinping never occurred. Instead, President Biden recently just congratulated the newly re-elected Chinese president in a bilateral meeting between both leaders at the ongoing G-20 summit in Bali. While addressing him as “President Xi,” never explicitly congratulated Xi Jinping on his re-election as general secretary of the CCP, but rather just implied in a congratulatory tone: “You were kind enough to call me to congratulate me, and I congratulate you as well.”

It's undeniable that the upcoming five years will witness deteriorating Sino-American relations as Washington sees Xi's China as a powerful force with the capacity to “reshape the international order in favor of one that tilts the global playing field to its benefit.” In this sense, Xi's increasing assertiveness and commitment to his authoritarian agenda will stir up problems for Washington as they try to maintain the balance of power in their favor without jeopardizing their economic ties to the area.

The European Union

While Washington has openly antagonized Xi's ambitions for the future of China, EU leaders remain hesitant to respond as they reap the consequences of over-dependence on Russian fossil fuels in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine.

The European Council hastily gathered in Brussels on October 21, 2022, to discuss the upcoming EU policy towards China. During the meeting, EU leaders recognized that Xi's centralization of power around himself was the first step towards China's mission to establish dominance over Eastern Asia and political/economic influence globally.

This, in addition to Beijing's deepening ties with Moscow, has the EU at a crossroads on how to proceed the EU-China relations that will dictate the future of the region's development.

On the one hand, some leaders warned the council to proceed with caution above all else as the EU is heavily dependent on Chinese imports of technologies and raw materials. While other leaders (notably German Chancellor Olaf Scholz) insisted the EU must strengthen its ties with the far east through China. However, the energy crisis that resulted from sanctions imposed on Russia in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine has led the EU response to be one of apprehensiveness when it comes to Xi's authoritarian tendencies. Due to this, the EU strives to diversify its supply chains of technology and raw materials before adopting a proper China policy to avoid a second crisis.


Joining the group of world leaders who have not openly addressed Xi Jinping's re-election as general secretary of the CCP is India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi's apprehensiveness to address Xi's consolidated leadership within China stems from his concern over the fluctuating balance of power in Asia as China strives for political and economic dominance both regionally and globally.

Unlike Modi's 2017 immediate response to Xi's election, in which he congratulated the leader and expressed his willingness to further advance India-China relations in regard to the Indo-Pacific, his apprehensiveness in 2022 conveys the deteriorating relationship between both countries.

Xi's words during the opening address at the National Congress stirs up trouble for India. Xi's dream of reunifying China does not only extend towards Taiwan, but also towards the disputed territories along the Himalayan border. China's already existing military superiority, combined with its ambitions to modernize and enhance their military capabilities and their willingness to employ any "measures necessary" to bring about Chinese reunification puts India in a precarious position. A threat which the Indian government is thoroughly aware of. Currently, India is taking preventative measures to counter any possible Chinese aggression along disputed territories by maintaining the necessary military build-up to match the growing Chinese army.

So, while Indian authorities have not openly commented on the results of the 20th National Congress, it's evident that they acknowledge the shifting power dynamics in Asia and will proceed accordingly.


As opposed to the Western response to China's political and economic ambitions, Russian President Vladimir Putin openly congratulated Xi Jinping and praised his approach to “confirm political authority” and the “unity of the party” he leads.

Xi's appointment of loyal followers to top positions within the party leadership have left the Russian president with the utmost confidence in the favorable course of Sino-Russian relations for the coming years. Putin expressed his eagerness to continue “constructive dialogue and close joint work to develop comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation” between both leaders.

Notably, Chinese election turnover solidifies an ally for Russia in the far East. Xi's address at the CPC also indicates that his plans go way beyond a decade, which means Russia has a guaranteed ally in Asia at least for the upcoming decade. This level of continuity and stability greatly tranquilizes Moscow at a time when the country is reaping the consequences of antagonizing western powers.


Similarly, Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, sent a congratulatory message to Xi Jinping in which he also indicated his intentions to build “constructive and stable” relations between both nations. Kishida's message implies Japan's eagerness to conduct negotiations with Xi's new government to avoid military alterations in the South China Sea over the disputed Senkaku islands.

Xi's message to use any means necessary in order to achieve the reunification of China, leaves Japanese leaders on edge as they are not only concerned over their disputed territory but also over the crucial shipping lanes that cross through the Taiwan Strait. The Taiwanese reunification with mainland China could jeopardizeJapanese shipping lanes that supply crucial amounts of oil and other natural resources which Japan needs to fund its rearmament initiative.

In his opening address, Xi expressed his intention of reaching military dominance in Asia through modernization and technical training which would decisively tip the balance of power in China's favor. Highly concerned by the implications of such statements, Japan has initiated its biggest military buildup since World War 2 in an attempt to counter Chinese aggression over disputed territories if need be.


On the other side of the globe, the Latin American response to the CPC turnout remains unaccounted for. China's fellow BRICS counterpart, Brazil is currently at a crossroads in a decisive election whose outcome will determine Brazil's future Asia policy.

On 30th October 2022, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva narrowly defeated Jair Bolsonaro in the second round of Brazilian elections. Given the freshness of the elections, it is still too early to tell the Asia policy which the Lula administration is going to adopt for the upcoming future. However, President Lula is famous for embracing leftist policies which could highly serve Beijing's interests in the region.

Lula's election comes at the perfect moment for Xi Jinping as he tries to expand his influence over Latin America in pursuit of his interests in the region. In his bid to influence global governance and worldwide economic development, finding an ally in Brazil could pave the way for Chinese presence in Latin America for the long term.


It's apparent enough that Xi Jinping's election as the general secretary of the CCP for a third term and the appointment of loyal allies to high-ranking positions within the party cements his position as leader of China for the foreseeable future. While a Xi-led China is on the horizon, this does not necessarily imply a drastic and unprecedented shift in Chinese policy. While, officially, Chinese policies will remain more or less the same, what is going to change is the means and timeline under which he performs his ambitions.

Given the current state of the international atmosphere, Xi and his closest allies are aware that their window of opportunity to conduct any actions with the least amount of international backlash is now: the US is currently undergoing a recession and in the midst of an election, the EU is hesitant to act and is still dealing with the war in Ukraine, Latin America is slowly being taken over by leftist governments, and the rest of the Asian countries are refuse to defy China without support from the West. So, while it may be possible that Xi is not going to engage in a more assertive foreign policy strategy so as to combat Western powers directly, he will take advantage of the opportunity he has been presented with to increase Chinese power and influence globally without major interference.

Key players such as the US, the EU, India and Japan must collectively counter China's increasing influence if they wish to maintain the balance of power in their favor. However, they should also strive to avoid military altercations at all costs to ensure international stability above anything else.